American Heart Month
Dear Maryland ACC Colleagues,
February is American Heart Month, a time when we usually head to Annapolis with our colleagues from the American Heart Association to advocate for legislation which furthers the ACC’s mission to “transform cardiovascular care and improve heart health.” This usually includes issues that advance public health (reducing tobacco consumption, increasing access to AEDs) and improve access to cardiovascular care (the RCIS bill we helped pass in 2019).
The Covid-19 pandemic has radically changed how advocacy looks in the 2021 session of the Maryland General Assembly. Committee meetings are held virtually and the opportunity to present live testimony is limited. But we will advocate for issues important to our patient and our members nonetheless.
This year, our top issue is telehealth parity – both parity with in-person visits and parity between video and audio-only telehealth visits. As we all know, telehealth was a lifeline during the initial spring surge, allowing us to maintain connection with our patients and to make important decisions to maintain and improve their cardiovascular health. The desire of some patients to maintain distance has led them to continue to request telehealth visits regardless of the degree of community spread or positivity rate. Indeed, some patients prefer telehealth for some visits to reduce travel time and cost, as well as inconvenience, particularly patients who rely on family members or neighbors for transport.
Importantly, not all patients have access to the digital bandwidth and/or computer equipment to allow a secure and stable video connection during a telehealth visit. I was surprised how common this problem is, and had numerous telehealth visits disrupted by connectivity issues, forcing a pivot to audio-only connection. We also know that lack of bandwidth and computer equipment disproportionately affects minority communities, the elderly, and low-income households.
Unfortunately, reimbursement policy for telehealth enacted during the pandemic have sunset provisions, and some private insurers have not reimbursed telehealth fairly, despite advocacy from Maryland ACC members. Fortunately, Maryland legislators have proposed a bill (HB 0123/ SB 0003, the Preserve Telehealth Access Act of 2021) which would maintain and expand telehealth parity with in-person office visits and requires parity between video and audio-only telehealth through June 30, 2025 for both public and private health insurers. This is important legislation that will help outpatient practices maintain financial viability and, most importantly, allow patients to continue to receive medical care regardless of the state of the pandemic, weather, or ability to obtain transportation.
Maryland ACC will advocate strongly for this legislation, with letters to the committees hearing the bill and, at the right time, direct advocacy to legislators urging its passage. Stay tuned and look for future Action Alerts when needed to do your part. In addition, please Wear Red on February 5 to support aware of heart disease in women. CV disease is still the number one cause of death in women and the top cause of morbidity and mortality in pregnancy.
On the education front, our Women in Cardiology chair, Dr. Catherine Bennet, hosted a very interesting evening webinar on January 13 covering work-life balance and molding one’s professional environment. On February 4 at 6PM, the CV Team section will host the 3rd evening in its Pillars of Cardiology Virtual Learning Series entitled “Interventional: Aortic stenosis: TAVR Assessment and Treatment/Heart Team approach.” You can register for this CEU event here.
I hope that nearly everyone has received at least their first Covid-19 vaccination at this point. I had my second last week and am pleased to report almost no side effects. I have been advocating vaccination to all my clinic patients for the past month. I also had the opportunity to help vaccinate colleagues – nearly 100 over 2 days. A number of our colleagues have joined in this effort, including immediate past CV Team Liaison, Jae Patton, CRNP, AACC. Thank you, Jae, and everyone who is helping with this vital effort!
Joseph E. Marine, MD, FACC
CVTeam Pillars of Cardiology